U.S. Praised for Its Role in Weekend Airlift of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan

Two leading American Jewish organizations today praised the United States for its role in the secret airlift of hundreds of Ethiopian Jews from the Sudan to Israel over the weekend.

But at the same time they sought to keep a tight lid on any further public disclosure of details of the operation beyond what has already appeared in the American news media.

Israel continued its silence on the rescue of Ethiopian Jews, as it has since Operation Moses was halted January 6 due to premature disclosure of its details. The White House and the State Department had no official comment on the latest airlift or the role played by the U.S. government.

THE OFFICIAL WORD IS ‘NO COMMENT’

President Reagan told reporters Saturday at the White House that he had “no comment” on the operation. A State Department spokesman, Brian Carlson, was quoted as saying, “We have no comment and we don’t plan to have anything.”

In keeping with the Administration’s policy of remaining quiet on details of the mission, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan said, “I’m not going to comment on that case,” when asked about reports of the airlift during an appearance Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press.” “I think in cases where we make humanitarian efforts to rescue various types of people, I think instead of reporters and senior Administration officials discussing it in public, its best left to the historians,” Regan said.

“You can blow these things very easily,” Regan continued. “And I would suggest that in the future we may be trying to rescue either ethnic or religious groups who are trapped for one reason or another. And I don’t think it serves any good purpose to discuss it.”

STATEMENTS BY TWO JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS

Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in a statement, said “As an American I am filled with pride. As a Jew I am filled with gratitude by the unselfish and humanitarian action of our government and of the personal involvement of Vice President George Bush and President Reagan.”

He added that “what they did here shows that the United States is willing when it has the opportunity to do so to help those people who want to help themselves in seeking freedom.”

The National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, in a statement, said, “We are profoundly moved by the report of the three-day operation completing the evacuation of virtually all of the Ethiopian Jews left in the refugee camps after the airlift was halted in January, and we welcome the actions of the United States government. It is very much in the spirit of the special relationship of the United States and Israel.”

MEDIA REPORTS OF THE AIRLIFT

According to media reports of the airlift, the operation involved the United States Air Force, the CIA and the State Department. The evacuation, the reports said, brings to Israel virtually all Ethiopian Jewish refugees who were stranded in Sudan after the airlift carried out by Israel from November to January was halted. Some 8,000 Jews were reportedly brought to Israel during that operation.

The Los Angeles Times, which carried the first reports of the three-day evacuation, said that it was worked out by Bush in a meeting March 6 with Sudanese President Gaafer al-Nimeiry. The Times reported that Nimeiry told Bush he had no objection to the removal of refugees from Sudan as long as it was done quickly and quietly, and according to other reports, that it was not conducted with Israeli planes.

The White House is widely reported to have given its approval for the operation. While there are no precise figures of how many Ethiopian Jews were flown out on the propeller-driven C-130 transport aircraft, it is reported that about 900 Ethiopian Jews lived as refugees in Sudan for about a year.

They were believed to have been in the Gedaref area, about 200 miles southeast of Khartoum. The Times correspondent reported early last Friday morning that the area in the Tawawa refugee camp where the Jews were housed was deserted.

The operation, the Times correspondent in Sudan, Charles Powers, reported, began at dawn last Friday. The Ethiopian Jews “were moved in a top secret and closely timed operation.” He wrote that “the refugees, who had been moved during the night from Tawawa, a camp six miles away, were loaded swiftly, probably in groups of 80 to 90 with each plane staying on the ground as long as necessary.”

Powers, reporting from Gedaref, was detained in a state security compound for 16 hours released when the operation was completed. He quoted unnamed sources as saying Nimeiry should easily ride out any criticisms for tacitly backing the second airlift.

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